Women and Girls in Georgia: Working for Sustainability in Agriculture and Our Communities

Every other year the Institute of Women’s Studies at UGA hosts the Women and Girls in Georgia Conference. The goal of the conference is to “bring together academics, activists, and community members to share expertise, strengthen networks, and strategize for positive social change in Georgia and beyond.” The 2015 conference occurred this last weekend with the theme of “Sustainability.” Friday night keynote speaker, Carolyn Sachs, Professor of Rural Sociology and Head of the Department of Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State University, kicked off the conference with a talk on gender’s role in environmental sustainability. She spoke about women’s role in agriculture and how they are often not recognized for the work they put into food production.

On Saturday conference attendees chose from a variety of sessions including: Environmental Justice, Greening our Campuses, Women.Power.Peace., and many more. NEGA Farm to school representatives, Maggie Van Cantfort and Georgia O’Farrell, had the privilege of participating in a panel during the “Finding Local Food, in Athens and Beyond” session along with UGArden manager, JoHannah Biang. The panel was facilitated by Dr. Cecilia Herles, Assistant Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies. Panelists discussed their individual experiences of being female in the agricultural field, what they believe creates sustainable agriculture and communities, and how their work is affecting their local communities.

Following the panel, students from Athens presented what they are doing to promote local and sustainable agriculture in their city. The first presentation was given by two UGA students who developed “Native Athens” as part of a class project. Their project commenced with each group member attempting to eat all local food for two weeks. By doing this they were exposed to the difficulties of buying local food — lack of knowledge about farmer’s markets and food co-ops, a small budget, and unreliable forms of transportation. This inspired them to create a Facebook page and Instagram account dedicated to educating college students specifically about how they can buy local. They mapped out all of the Athens farmer’s markets with the days and times that they run, and provided an outlet for students to share knowledge about local food in Athens. Check out their Facebook page to get more information about the great work they are doing.

The second presentation was given by a 12th grade student at Cedar Shoals High School. One day she was reading an article in the newspaper about poverty in Athens and how people are trying to combat it. She read about a woman in a low-income neighborhood who collected nuts from a nearby nut tree and sold them to make money. This inspired Cedar Shoals’ student to embark on a rather large project called “Forage Athens.” She thought about the numerous fruit and nut trees on public property in Athens, and how wonderful it would be if people could get a supply of free and local food from them. She began getting exact coordinates of various produce trees around the city and created an interactive map for all community members to see on her website. She has created a true community effort to increase local food consumption, promote a healthier diet, and attempt to alleviate some of the struggles of poverty. Forage Athens is constantly adding produce trees to the map. If you know of any produce trees in the area, email forageathens@gmail.com to help support the project.

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